Elite corn, without control by elites: NCGA, Benson Hill Biosystems partner to democratize corn R&D, unleash innovation

November 16, 2016 |

In Missouri, Benson Hill Biosystems, an agricultural technology company unlocking the genetic potential of plants, today announced a strategic partnership and grant from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

Benson Hill’s CropOS platform empowers organizations of any size to innovate and provide growers choice, whether that be for disease, maturity or specific environmental requirements. With a handful of companies owning roughly 85 percent of the corn market, there is limited incentive to address more geographic-specific needs; Benson Hill’s CropOS opens up new research opportunities.

The Democratization of R&D

We wrote in June: “The nature of collaboration across the advanced bioeconomy is shifting dramatically – and we are seeing the democratization of R&D. It is because of the Cloud, and the costs of gene sequencing, and the development of powerful algorithms whereby machines learn faster and become more accurately predictive.

As Dan Watkins of DFJ’s Mercury Fund put it, “There’s a total sea change in biology with CRISPR-CAS gene editing coming on less expensively, and we’ve got next-gen sequencing and the costs of the cloud coming down fast. It’s not that different from the IT world where now everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket.”

The CropOS backstory

CropOS combines vast amounts of genomic data and expert biological knowledge from public and private sources to pinpoint which plants will produce desired traits and improved performance prior to ever being planted in the field. CropOS provides decision support in breeding programs, allowing researchers to bypass multiple generations of experimentation.

The CropOS cognitive engine uses machine learning to grow smarter and more predictive with every experiment and data set. With each additional breeder that takes advantage of the analytical power and machine learning of CropOS, progress in corn breeding has the potential to accelerate significantly, making the industry more responsive to the needs of growers.

Benson Hill Biosystems lands $7.3M in Series A financing 

Benson Hill Biosystems announces cloud biology system for plant genomics

The partnership’s targets

The primary goal of the funding and partnership initiative will be to accelerate breeding and development of new corn hybrids utilizing CropOS, a cognitive engine that uses cloud biology to empower a new era of plant genomics innovation, subsequently introducing new choices for growers in the U.S. corn marketplace.

CropOS’s ability to remove barriers to innovation directly aligns with NCGA’s mission to “create and increase opportunities for corn growers.” This association represents more than 40,000 dues-paying corn farmers nationwide and the interests of more than 300,000 growers who contribute through corn checkoff programs.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“The financial and broader support of NCGA underscores our opportunity to empower innovation and help level the playing field for those seeking to develop high performing varieties, even on a local or regional level,” said Benson Hill Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Crisp. “The more responsive and competitive the industry is, the better equipped growers will be to sustainably meet demand for increasingly diverse solutions that benefit farms, communities, consumers and our society.”

“Our members are telling us loud and clear that they need more choices in the corn marketplace,” said Larry Hoffmann, a leading grower and Chairman of NCGA’s Corn Productivity & Quality Action Team. “We believe that the CropOS platform offers a fresh approach to leverage big data and technology and foster a more competitive industry. Our partnership heralds an exciting new era of opportunity for our members to access better hybrids from a more diversified market.”

Look and See – the Multi-Slide Guide

Advanced agriculture through Cloud Biology: The Digest’s 2016 Multi-Slide Guide to Benson Hill Biosystems

More on the story.

 

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